Friday, September 30, 2011

What's Your Number? Review

It’s interesting to think about the dynamics of men and woman, (when it comes to how many people you’ve had sex with) brought up in the nee romantic comedy “What’s You’re Number?” When a woman has sex with a lot of men she’s viewed as a slut to fellow woman and used goods to other men but when a man has sex with lots of woman he’s viewed as a hero among men and a jerk among woman.

However director Mark Mylod with his writers and producers don’t try and decipher that idea or discuss it more deeply. No sir, “What’s You’re Number?” is for the most part another dumb rom-com. There aren’t any surprises and like most rom coms the last quarter of the film drags because of the inevitability of its structure.

But, what this movie has is Anna Faris. Old fashioned, Playboy good looks along with an over exhaustive, slightly winy voice make the 34-year-old “Scary Movie” actress seem like the quintessential dumb blonde. She’s always played a ditzy and stupid but also sincere character in all her films and she does no different here but much like other actors who are prone to playing the same kind of characters she’s a marvel at it and is very entertaining to watch, whether she’s getting drunk at her sister’s rehearsal dinner or skinny dipping in the harbor.

Faris plays Ally Darling, a woman in crisis. She’s slept with twenty different men and according to a scientific experiment conducted by someone at Harvard twenty is the maximum number of sexual partners a woman should have. She decides to go back through her ex list and try and see if she can make it work with one of them again so she doesn’t go over twenty. While in the process she strikes up a friendship with her womanizing next-door neighbor Colin Shea (a charming and chiseled Chris Evans, still muscle bound from his previous film “Captain America.”), who helps her track down the ex’s.

The script by television writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, while not without the usual rom-com gimmicks (a controlling, and kooky mother, or the aforementioned getting drunk at a family gathering) is still consistently funny. A majority of the jokes in context and coming from the raunchy dialogue, exchanged between Ally and her girlfriends or her and Chris. Most of which I can’t say here, unfortunately.

There there were even a few stupid and simple sight gags that made me laugh hard, like when Ally is trying to search for her ex’s online and she comes across a dirty website with a dancing/singing pair of testicles. It’s not great humor but it gets the job done nonetheless.

Ally’s sexual crusade takes her from New York, to DC to Florida, where we get to meet her ex boy friends, usually starting with an amusing flashback showing how they met. To name a few, Anthony Mackie as a wannabe politician who turned gay after going out with her, or Andy Samberg as a geeky, puppeteer. All of the actors do a sufficient job, even though they just play caricatures and are, as with the rest of the humor consistently funny.

Now, we all know where this movie’s going to go. Besides the routine last minute fights and temptations, we know Ally and Colin are going to get together. But that’s what we expect from all romantic comedies, a happy outcome. It’s the journey from point A to point B that makes “What’s Your Number?” worthwhile.

And of course it all goes back to Faris. Her spunky, floosy energy is a lot of fun and with her being an executive producer, a great deal of the humor is geared toward her comedic strengths and as a result steals every scene she’s in. Like when she tries to reconnect with one of her ex’s who’s British and thinks she’s British, so she has to do a fake accent that goes from British to, as she says “Borat.” It goes to show you how much of a difference, an actor can make.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dolphin Tale Review

Charles Martin Smith’s “Dolphin Tale” is a perfectly pleasant animal fable. All the actors give humble performances, usually keeping a big smile indented on their faces. There aren’t any surprises, and you don’t have to worry about the animal dying. 

It’s inspired by a true story, and I stress “inspired” because the movie’s writers (Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi) and the producers use the typical animal movie device by throwing young children into the equation. “Dolphin Tale” is a story of a young boy’s bond with a dolphin. So there are a lot of cutesy dolphin interactions, and a couple majestic sequences of the boy swimming and playing with the dolphin in bliss. Again all of this is pleasant stuff to watch, and the children actors do what they’re expected to do in a movie like this and are helped out considerably by the grown up cast.

 And you’d have to be a sad, sad person not to enjoy watching a dolphin playing. Like all of the creatures in these kinds of movies--whether it’s a dog, horse, dolphin, or cute alien--you can’t help but be touched. In the case of “Dolphin Tale” it does help to have the actual dolphin, Winter (a female Bottle Nose dolphin that got caught in a fishing trap, had to have its tale amputated, and was given a prosthetic one), because you feel a little more emotionally attached to the creature.

Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer, the young boy who finds and befriends Winter and has the magic touch. Whenever he’s in the same room as her she makes a cute tweeting sound; when the other people at the animal shelter can’t feed her, Sawyer can.
While at the shelter he befriends fellow youngster Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) along with her father and owner Clay (Harry Connick Jr.) Together they try to rehabilitate Winter and get her a prosthetic tale, even though the odds are impossible. Anyway you know where this is going.

 Now, I’m fine with all that emotional stuff, and I’m sure other people will be too. Unfortunately “Dolphin Tale” just isn’t emotional enough. I’m not saying the dolphin needed to die but at least amp up the sadness and intensity in certain key scenes, like when Winter is first rescued on the beach, or later on when there’s the possibility that she might have to be put down.

We don’t really get to see Winter’s struggles to their full extent. Therefore we don’t care about Winter as much as we would like to, mostly because the movie takes it for granted that everybody cares about dolphins. And while 3D does sound like a good idea for an animal movie it seemed to create a layer of gloss over the screen, further keeping you at a distance from the movie.

            Also, by about the middle it becomes a little much. Smith piles on the sentimentality with a shovel. Obvious gimmicks, like when a young girl with a missing leg comes all the way up from Georgia to see Winter or when Clay wants to give up and his father, Reed (Kris Kristofferson) gives a perseverance speech, using some metaphor about the stars, or whatever.

Not to mention a few tacked on cliché side plots to tug at your heart strings and amp up the conflict, such as Sawyer’s cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a soldier who’s injured and is unable to use one of his legs, only to be inspired by Winter’s charm. And why oh why does the villain in these stories always have to be a greedy businessman (in this case it’s a man who owns a chain of hotels and wants to buy up the shelter)?  Haven’t we seen that enough?

With that said, it’s still hard to dislike “Dolphin Tale” completely. It’s a painless, upbeat family film. In fact it’s so happy and afraid to be down that’s it’s almost overwhelming. The film will make you feel good, even if that feeling is somewhat corny and Hallmark. For most that’s good enough.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Straw Dogs Review

For the most part Rod Lurie’s “Straw Dogs” is a shot by shot remake of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 film. There are differences. Instead of taking place in England it takes place in the American Deep South. The hero, Donald Sumner, is an L.A. screenwriter instead of a math teacher, so there are a few modern movie references thrown in, making the film somewhat contemporary. But the original plot points and sequences that made the original movie so controversial are still here in the remake.

A cat gets strangled and hung in a closet, there’s a rape scene, and a violent confrontation between David, his wife and the locals. A slightly different setup but the same journey, ultimately the same journey of David has to prove himself as a man.

While it isn’t perfect, Lurie’s version (he also wrote the screenplay) is still entertaining, and in some ways an improvement on the original film. Which is saying a lot.

David (James Marsden, who bears some resemblance to Dustin Hoffman from the original) and Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) return to her hometown of Black Water to prepare Amy’s dad’s house for sale after his death. While there, problems re-emerge with their marriage as well as with the locals, including Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (a charming but unsettling Alex Skarsgard).

 One of the biggest differences between the two movies is the depiction of violence. Sure there’s plenty of it in Lurie’s but it’s dialed down. The rape scene is not nearly as excruciatingly stretched out as it was in the original (same goes with the confrontation). In fact all the violent scenes seem to be glossed over, not as raw. Lurie’s film is less brutal then Peckinpah’s.

Though this isn’t a bad thing. Peckinpah wanted to show us the full extent of the violence and his movie lost some of the substance in the story as a result. Lurie doesn’t want to show a long and uncomfortable rape scene and that’s just fine. By not being so gratuitous with the violence, he has managed to craft a fierce but compelling film.

Another interesting comparison between the two movies is the depiction of the local folk. In the original film they weren’t as defined as being bad people. So when they did violent acts they seemed more rash and you didn’t really understand why they did such outrageous things. Whereas Lurie establishes the bad characters right from the start. They’re good ol’ rednecks that love their guns and beer. So when they go on to do things like kill the cat or rape Amy, their actions, while still being evil, seem right in character. It makes the final confrontation much more satisfying. Bringing out those revenge fantasy urges in you. You want to see the “straw dogs” (as David calls them) pay.

Something else that Lurie’s film improves on is David and Amy’s relationship. In the original they were polar opposites. He’s brainy and snarky, while she’s a floosy and very unlikable. The idea was that going through this ordeal would bring them closer together when in actuality it seemed to push them further apart. In the new movie David is still brainy and snarky and Amy is flirty but she’s not as unlikable and proves to be much stronger, especially during the confrontation. The origins of their relationship are still a little mysterious but by the end Lurie succeeds in bringing them closer together.

Even though this movie is such a close remake of the original it’s important to emphasize how it stands by itself. The bottom line with the two “Straw Dogs” is that Peckinpah wanted to push the envelope with his movie; Lurie doesn’t, and because of that this new film turns out to be a fairly decent thriller on its own.

Drive Review

Nicholas Winding Refn’s new film “Drive” is a car film no doubt, but it doesn’t feel like your typical Hollywood car film. A man known as Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt driver for movies by day and a getaway driver for heists by night, who gets caught up with a syndicate of dangerous criminals.

Sounds like standard fare, right? Wrong. The way Refn stages and lights each scene, combined with Newton Thomas Sigel’s gritty cinematography, gives the film an almost dreamy yet noir-ish look. It’s a smart and compelling action/drama mixed with an 80’s B-movie revenge flick, and it’s the most creative car movie I’ve seen since Quentin Tarintino’s “Death Proof.”

In the opening scene, Driver is doing a heist job. He waits outside a building for two robbers to come back. His police radio is on, his watch is ticking. The robbers rush back to the car just as we start to hear sirens. Driver puts the car in drive and they’re off. From this point on we’re expecting a high-octane car chase. Instead, Driver takes his time. Quickly driving and then taking cover in the darkness, and so on, until he reaches safety.

The scene is exciting but not too over the top and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie’s action scenes. Instead of being overwhelming and fast paced, Refn slows them down, so that they’re graceful, with sudden bursts of fluid energy. It’s a perfect example of how skillful directing and editing can be much more effective than pure nonstop action.

With every new role Gosling keeps showing us how much range he has. Just a little while ago he was playing a cool playboy in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” In this film he’s quieter and reserved but could kill you in a second. He doesn’t talk as much in “Drive,” and neither does his next-door neighbor and love interest Irene (Cary Muligan), which is good or bad depending on how much you like dialogue.

 There’s more visual interaction between them than verbal. They do have conversations but they’re brief and sometimes a little awkward. Nevertheless they still pull it off, playing naturally likable characters and their romance is very pleasant but enigmatic at the same time. Driver is the helpful stranger next door with a dark secret looming inside him while Irene is the innocent mother.

The Conflict switches gears when Irene’s ex-convict husband comes back into the picture and gets Driver, Irene and her son tangled up in the dangerous underworld of some criminals played with relaxed arrogance by Ron Pearlman and Albert Brooks. 

Fearing that they might go after Irene and her son, Driver goes on the offensive, taking vengeance on them. Immediately the movie turns into a revenge thriller. Gosling’s performance heats up, becoming ruthless, killing the foes in a series of gory sequences (he goes to a strip club and beats a man with a hammer). But they never lose that finesse I mentioned before.

Cliff Martinez’s (who also scored last weeks “Contagion”) electro pop soundtrack is just as much a character as Driver or Irene. It’s used to match the different moods of the picture. When it focuses on Irene and Driver’s relationship the music is peaceful and haunting. When there’s an action scene, the music is vibrant and fast moving. When there’s a suspenseful scene (such as the opening) it’s as subtle as a heart beat. It adds a considerable amount of personality to the movie.

I could sit here and try to think of flaws but I’d be nitpicking. I was never bored during “Drive.” It’s serious enough for you to care about the action and characters yet it’s not afraid to indulge in B-movie fun. But describing the film isn’t enough; it’s truly the kind of movie you have to see to fully understand.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Creature Review

I’m going to make this short and sweet, because there isn’t that much to say about “Creature,” a film that doesn’t even try to be a serious B grade horror movie throwback. Five good looking teenagers (or young adults) venture into the wild swamps of Louisiana to party it up, only to be stalked and killed by a vicious half man half alligator thing that’s been roaming the swamps for years.

That’s it. Not much to analyze there. It’s not like director Fred M Andrews and co writer Tracey Morse are trying to deliver an Oscar worthy picture, or even a worthy picture for that matter. They’re simply trying to exploit killing, sex, drugs, booze, religion and inbreed hicks.

I’m not going to bother going into the actor’s performances or the script because a movie like this requires neither. All I’ll say is that at least the actors are in on the joke.

Well, there you go. “Creature” might provide some B movie fun but I wouldn’t go as far as to put it in the “It’s So Bad It’s Good” genre. The people involved with this set out to make a bad movie and they certainly did.

No Star Rating Necessary